Diego Irrarázaval – Nourished by Asian Christianity

Diego Irrarázaval – « South-America’s Liberation Nourished by Asian Christianity »

This text is a part of the issue:
English: Asian Christianities
Deutsch: Asiatischen Christentümer
Italiano: Cristianesimi asiatici
Português: Cristiandades asiáticas
Français: Christianismes asiatiques
Español: Cristianismos asiáticos
中國人: 亞洲基督教

Technologies and wisdoms have been unraveling since ten thousand years when rice begun to be enjoyed in Asia, and since seven thousands of years when corn and potatoes begun to feed us in central and south America. However, few centuries of so-called ‘western reason’ pretends to replace Asian achievements throughout more than 20 centuries. 

Nothing can replace what has been empowering peoples for centuries. Pan-Asian Mahayana Buddhism allows multitudes to attain peace; the enlightened legacy is to go ahead “for the happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world”.[1] In China and Japan, C.S. Song and Huang Po Ho underline “intuitive illumination” that is different from western universal reason.[2] Strands of Taoism, Hinduism, cosmic spiritualities, allow most of humanity to be well grounded; a Bengali mystic said: “as a lamp does not burn without oil, so a person cannot live without God”.[3] Milestones of wisdoms and theologies are mostly due to Asian peoples. 

1. Basic Concerns

During thousands of years there is awareness of being part of the universe, taking care of Life, personal and environmental liberation. Peoples are empowered by the sacred (addressed with different names). Contemporary faith-traditions acknowledge God as principle of justice, truth, well-being. Communities all over Africa have been rediscovering an Ancestor-Black Jesus Christ, have been shaping post-colonial perspectives, and are developing autochthonous forms of Christianity (and ‘independent’ churches). Asians have been forerunners of merciful wisdom among the poor, of spiritual paths towards the truth, of awesome intellectual constructions. 

A first basic concern: reception of Asian inputs in other parts of the world. Unfortunately we lack interaction; all we have are caricatures, some of them only underlining past Asian civilizations or today’s economic success and internal conflicts. Another caricature is that theological liberation was born and grew mainly in Latin America. May I mention Filipino milestones: identity politics and indigenous belief system and liturgy,[4] communities “following Jesus-in-mission who proclaimed God´s kingdom” and people “being empowered to decide and act for themselves”.[5]

Another concern is to strengthen a critical and creative agenda. If there is a wish to be post-colonial and to interact with African and Asian sources of wisdom, what happens to us Latin Americans? Asian experience is sometimes summarized as being in harmony and as daily unraveling of struggles for life. This implies acknowledging the Spirit in ´non-Christian´ symbols of faith. This does not mean leaving aside the Gospel; rather what are questioned are forms of neo-colonial Christendom which continue to frame our minds.  

Today´s understanding of a crucified and risen Jesus Christ is meaningful for all peoples. Moreover, theological quests are focusing on the Spirit, who fosters a holistic liberation.[6] Being in the Philippines, we are moved to recall that the Gospel was proclaimed and carried out by a Galilean-Semitic-Asian prophet and healer of Nazareth; furthermore we are grateful to Asian theological values that are relevant and challenging to us. 

One-dimensional rationalities (of western origin) have been uncritically transplanted throughout the world. In Latin America, we have been and continue to be hypnotized by images and concepts with neo-Christendom characteristics. However, there is an ongoing systematic dialogue which is taking place with non-western feelings, thoughts, gifts within us, and with others in the world. Our major concerns are interaction with Asian wisdoms and struggles for life, and developing post-colonial agendas with evangelical criteria. It all starts with a renewed understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean and Semitic-Asian  prophet who is light for the world. 

2. Cutting-edge Inquiries

Latin American  experiences are often called ‘caminhada’ (journey) of the people of God. Another good Brazilian metaphor is “teologias pé no cháo” (which means earthly theologies). These passionate reflections may also be called intellectus amoris (a formula used by Jon Sobrino who is critical of rationalism).[7] Systematic work has been carried out during decades, in several regions of the continent. It is nourished by downtrodden peoples and by intellectuals who think and pray among them. I only mention some achievements unraveling among us (and hopefully relevant in Asia). As we rediscover faith among the poor, their wisdom and cries for justice, a shared Latin-American journey is challenged by the Good News. The key is the heritage of Jesus of Nazareth and its meaning today in each and all areas of the world. 

Second, what is often discussed among us are mediations, particularly rational and emotional frameworks. Some argue for more conceptual and symbolic creativity so as to avoid reproducing speculative (European) inquiries. What has to be praised are five decades of systematic thinking within lived Christianities in our continent. It draws from people´s sensus fidelium; it has methodologies and hermeneutics, inculturated and intercultural ways of understanding the faith, bliblical and pastoral qualities. It has developed feminist, indigenous, Afro-American, eco-spiritual kinds of theology.[8]

These achievements go hand in hand with shortcomings and obstacles. In the past forty years, much of Latin-American fertile theological work is not at the heart of academic institutions, editorial endeavors and pastoral programs. There is limited dedication to the environment (with the exception of Ivonne Gebara´s ecofeminism, Leonardo Boff´s outstanding eco-theology, and a few others). There are also few inquiries into joyful cultures and their ambiguities, in people´s experience of God (with the exception of Angel Mendez´s writings on Mexican food and theology; Maximiliano Salinas comprehensive work on love; Antonio da Silva Afro-American theology)[9], with gender research and action.

Our discourses of faith (marginalized by leading institutions, but well rooted in people’s journeys with God) may interact with quests by Christian minorities in Asia. All of us may continue dealing with cutting-edge issues, and be truly catholic and evangelical.

3. Inter-faith Priorities

Latin American thinking is often acknowledged for its focus on the signs of the times, on faith as experience, on Christ as beloved savior and prophet among the poor[10]. Moreover, indigenous, Afro-American, feminist, and other scholars have been exploring paths of faith with autochthonous hermeneutics, so as to unravel the meaning of God in each context and culture. Having these concerns, Asian and African experiences and expertise are most relevant and allow us to raise questions as we search for truth. We cite as example, some activities in the Philippines where loggers, miners, plantation companies decide what to do with nature: after the 2013 typhoon (Haiyan), Christians share struggles with persons of other faiths to reconstruct their lives and promote the integrity of creation.[11]

In other areas of Asia,[12] ways of love and knowledge are due to Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, innumerable local and regional shamanistic rituals, ancestor worship, multidimensional Hinduism, Sakti in villages. Transcendence is also experienced with Korean minjung-ochlos-Jesus.[13] In the Philippines, outstanding rituals take place with Black Nazarene, with Cebu´s Santo Niño (the child Jesus) and its sinulog dance patterned after indigenous and Muslim ceremonies, with Pasyon of Tagalog people who in sinakulo (passion play) represent intimacy with a suffering and healer Christ.[14]

Each phenomena and spiritual horizon has its own symbolic quality. They may be seen as approaches to God (and to meanings of Jesus) that have some common denominators. There are hermeneutical keys. For example, Felix Wilfred feels that three hundred thirty million gods and goddesses in Hinduism may be valued as “expressions of the divine mystery that cannot be exhausted in any single form… and this is a contribution to tolerance, peace and harmony”; and in another text highlights Christubhaktas, a Hindu Bhakti movement in which the “message of Ishtavedata-Jesus appropriated and interpreted by them becomes a liberating experience”.[15] These are fascinating quests and questions in Asian contexts, that are meaningful for Latin-American inter-faith and liberating journeys.

Asian women deal with radical issues: “distancing from west Euro-American influences, drinking deep into our own springs… and confronting power that comes from money which threatens all forms of life”.[16] There is also willingness to reconstruct “theological paradigms” and to “discover the hidden face of Christ in Hinduism and other Indian religions which will be the basis of a new theology of Harmony and Hope”.[17] The Philippines provides systematic and prophetic thinking. Cosmic religions are acknowledged, and liberation and creation are seen within the struggle of women for full humanity (e.g., Virginia Fabella, Rosario Battung, Mary John Mananzan, and others).[18]Biblical treasures are read anew in India by L. Ralte, E. A. Rajkumar; in Indonesia Judith Lim presents the pagan Syrophoenician of Mark 7:24-30 as a paradigm of “resilience, wisdom, tenacity, perseverance and faith”.[19] Inter-faith thinking and praxis are understood courageously (as Latin-American also wish to do so).

A shared ultimate ground is the message of a marginal Jesus. He is scorned (John 7:52) since “no prophet comes” from a so-called pagan Galilee. However, he is a healer, prophet of the Kingdom of God, son of Abbá, giver of Spirit. Today´s theologies are grounded in a Galilean who is Semitic-Asian. This implies that persons throughout the world interact with Asia´s wisdoms and politics.

4. Post-colonial Paradoxes

Mahatma Gandhi, being a Hindu touched by Jesus´ beatitudes,[20] moves us to examine paradoxes of today. Churches and theologies continue to reproduce hegemonic western standards. Even ´liberational´ languages are sometimes far away from autochthonous, truthful, political ways of faith.[21] There are tensions and incongruities.

On one side, there is praiseworthy official renewal in action and thinking (from the Episcopal Conferences of Medellín in 1968 up to Aparecida in 2009), a mature corpus of Latin American theologies, and grassroots work mainly with the Bible. On another side, we reproduce irrelevant teachings and laws; and progressive attitudes are often unable to handle secularism and market idolatry. 

Allow me to also mention issues in Asia. On one side, creative networks, a courageous federation of bishop´s conference,[22] cutting edge trans-rationality of experience (anubhava) and of voyage (yatra),[23] interaction with ordinary people (seen as theologians, because of their pathos, wisdom, power, art, prophecy, struggle, culture, religiosity, history).[24] On another side, there is a transactional spirituality where “we offer our devotion in return for a wish, a US visa, a winning ticket at the lotto…  devotees of the Black Nazarene redeem a personal pact, panata, they make with God”[25]; so, there are deep devotions that coexist with what is influenced by European-American patterns.

All over the world other huge paradoxes are market hegemony vis-à-vis spiritual truth claims, technological magic vis-à-vis signs of liberation, Catholicism and Pentecostalism vis-à-vis cruel forms of fundamentalism. These and other paradoxes have an impact on communities of faith and their theologies. We may abstain from a prophetic evaluation of economic inequality; or, we may offer socio-spiritual criteria in the global market.[26] Our discourse may be cyber-theological and engage the techno-digital revolution.[27] Inculturation as a route for decolonization is both a hopeful and a controversial proposal in Asia and in the Americas. 

Asian theologies are being renewed due to many individuals, institutions, and ecumenical thrusts. Communities and their theologies become servants of humanity, following the steps of Jesus, a Galilean and Asian healer and prophet. Moreover, theology has a realistic understanding of harmony in terms of social movements, of inputs by primal religions, and by Confucian and Taoist patterns of joy and well being.  Such understandings dwell on particular sources and it trusts on the life-giving God of all peoples.[28] Asian Pneumatology pays attention to major resources in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and primal religions. It also gives witness to the Spirit at work in people´s movements, suffering, spirituality, technology, world and church[29]. It has a humble and holistic approach to Mystery since the Spirit binds together the universe. It also means power for the powerless, being in community, and vision about the future.[30]Such spiritual experience and wisdom is most relevant for people of good will anywhere. Those of us who are in Latin America may be nourished by different human journeys and experiences of the sacred. We may enjoy syncretic ‘lived Christianities’. The bottom line is being faithful to a Galilean–Semitic-Asian Jesus who leads us to an inter-faith praxis that draws from the spring of deep social-cosmic resources.

[1] Fragment of 16th discourse, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, Sutta 16, (Maurice Walsh, ed., Digha Nikaya, transl.), Boston: Wisdom Publication, 1996, pg. 253. 

[2] See Huang Po Ho, “Modelos de pensamiento de la etnia Han y su impacto en las religiones y las teologias”, Concilium 369 (2017), 37-39. See also Daniel Bell, China´s New Confucianism: politics and everyday life in a changing society, Princeton: University Press, 2010.

[3] Saying attributed to Bengali mystic Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886); Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Ramakrishna, his life and sayings (F. Max Muller, transl.), London: Forgotten Books, 2008.

[4] Karl Gaspar, PanagkutayAnthropology and Theology Interfacing in Mindanao Uplands (Quezon City: Institute of Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 200; and its “see-judge-act method of theologizing” (pg. xxvii) that is interfaced with anthropology.

[5] Daniel Franklin Pilario (ed.) Faith in Action: Catholic Social Teaching on the Ground (Quezon City: Adamson University, 2017), 338 and 345. It develops 8 modules of grass-roots education and action.  

[6] A leading Latinamerican focus is pneumatological; see O. Elizalde, R. Hermano, D. Moreno (org.), La Iglesia que camina con Espíritu y desde los pobres, Montevideo: Amerindia, 2016. In Asian contexts, fertile dialogue with faith traditions (Buddha, Hinduism, Islam, etc), with primal religions, socio-political movements, bible and church. See “The Spirit at work in Asia today” in  Vimal Tirimanna, ed., Sprouts of Theology from the Asian Soil (Bangalore: Claretian, 2007), 167-254.  

[7] Jon Sobrino confronts “el divorcio entre teología racional y teología amorosa, misericordiosa” (El principio misericordia, Santander: Sal Terrae, 1992, 74-75). 

[8] See Ignacio Ellacuría, J. Sobrino (eds.) Mysterium Liberationis (Madrid: Trotta, 1990); L.C. Susin (org.), O mar se abriu. Trinta años de teología na América Latina (Sao Paulo: Loyola, 2000). 

[9] See Angel Mendez, Theology of Food (London: Blackwell, 2000), Antonio da Silva, Sonia Querino (org.), Teologia Afroamericana II (Sao Paulo: Atabaque, 2004).Maximiliano Salinas, Lo que puede el sentimiento (Santiago: Ocho Libros, 2015). 

[10] Focus by Maria Clara Bingemer, O misterio e o mundo (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 2013, who deals with experience; my essay “Latinamerican images of Christ”, Journal of Reformed Theology, 1 (2007), 50-71; Maria del Pilar Silveira, Mariología popular latinoamericana, Caracas: UCAB, 2013.  

[11] Karl Gaspar, “An Ecological Theology of Liberation”, Voices 2014/2-3, pg. 202 Other works: Rey Raluto, Ecological Theology of Liberation. A People´s Option: To Struggle for Creation (Quezon: Claretian, 1990); Archie Ligo, Virginia Fabella (eds.), Dugo-Duga ng Buhay (Vital Sap of Life) (Manila: EATWOT and FIDES,1995).

[12] See R.S. Sugirtharajah (ed.), Asian Faces of Jesus London: SCM Press, 1993; Peter Phan, Christology with an Asian face, New York: Orbis, 2003; Jan Peter Schouten, Jesus as Guru, Amsterdam: Rodopi B.V., 2008; A.M. Abraham Ayrookuzhiel, The sacred in popular Hinduism, Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1983; B.R. Ro, “Asian theologies”, in Walter E. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1984 (   

[13] Byung Mu Ahn, “Jesus and people (minjung)”, in Sugirtharajah, op. cit., 167. 

[14] Salvador Martinez, “Jesus Christ in popular piety in the Philippines”, in Sugirtharajah, op.cit., 247-257.

[15] Felix Wilfred, Asian Public Religion (Delhi: ISPCK, 2010), 294; Margins: Site of Asian Theologies (Delhi: ISPCK, 2008), 143.

[16] Marlene Perera, Stella Baltazar (eds.), Towards a New Dawn: Asian Women’s Theology and Spirituality. Proceedings of the Consultation of Asian EATWOT Women, 25-29 August 1999 (Chennai: Consultation of the Asian EATWOT Women, 1999), pgs. 113, 115.

[17] Stella Baltasar and Rini Ralte, “Indian Women for a Just World Order”, in Towards a New Dawn, pg. 11.

[18] See Virginia Fabella, Mercy Amba Oduyeye (eds.), With Passion and Compassion, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1985; Mary John Mananzan (ed.), Woman and Religion. Manila: St. Scholastica´s College, 1998.

[19] See Lalrinawmi Ralte, Evangeline Rajkumar (eds.), New eyes, new reading, new women, New Delhi: ISPCK, 2002; Judith Lim, “Aspiration for new life emerging from women of action”, in Towards a new dawn, pg. 105.

[20] See Gandhi, An Autobiography, Boston: Beacon Press, 1957; Louis Fischer, Gandhi, New York: Penguin, 1954. Gandhi´s satyagraha(forceful resistance) inspires theological creativity in the global south.

[21] See issue of EATWOT´s digital Journal Voices. Liberation Theology and Postcolonial Thought, 2014/1. Cf.

[22] Vimal Tirimanna (Ed.), Sprouts of Theology from the Asian Soil (Bangalore: Claretian, 2007) deals with interreligious dialogue, local church, politics, harmony, Spirit, theological methodology, religious freedom, respect for life.

[23] See Felix Wilfred, “Fe cristiana y racionalidades socioculturales”, Concilium 369 (2017), 107-118.

[24] Anthoniraj Thumma, Wisdom of the Weak (Delhi: ISPCK, 2000), who explains ´theologies from below´.

[25] Randolph David, Understanding Philippine Society, Culture, Politics, Madaluyong City: Anvil, 2017, 181-182. 

[26] See Jung Mo Sung, Deseo, Mercado y Religión, Santander: Sal Terrae, 1999; Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion, NY: Continuum, 2005; William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, Economics and Christian desire, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008; Alberto Moreira (org.), O capitalism como religiâo, Goiania: PUC, 2012.

[27] See XXXII Semana Argentina de Teologia, La transmisión de la fe en el mundo de las nuevas tecnologías, Buenos Aires: Agape, 2014; Alberto da Silva Moreira, C. Teles, E. de Gusmâo Cuadros (org.), A religiâo na mídia e a mídia na religiâo, Goiania: America, 2012.

[28] See Sprouts, 119-138, 377-418; F. Wilfred, Margins, Site of Asian theologies, Delhi: ISPCK, 2008, 118-134.

[29] Sprouts, 167-209, 209-245.

[30] Sprouts, 245-254. This understanding of Spirit is non-colonial and its thrust is inter-faith.


Diego Irrarázaval, member of CONCILIUM board of editors (2005-2017), took the leadership in the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (1995-2006).

Address: Casilla 8, Correo Peñalolen, Santiago de Chile (Chile).

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